A dangerous assumption some employees make is that, as long as they have FMLA leave, they can take time off work whenever they want and it will be “excused.” The truth is, misapplying your FMLA rights will provide your employer with a good reason to terminate you. FMLA protects employees’ rights to medical leave for a very specific period of time, and for very limited medical reasons. Attempting to circumvent these rules can be disastrous.
Protections Afforded to Employees by the FMLA
The FMLA allows employees to take leave from work to deal with health issues without the fear of losing their jobs. While an employee is on FMLA leave, the employer is required to maintain the employee’s existing health insurance coverage, and guarantee that their job (or an equivalent position) will be waiting for them when they return. Qualified employees are guaranteed a total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave during each 12-month period.
When Can I Use My FMLA Leave?
Eligible employees who meet the above requirements can only take leave for qualified reasons, such as a legally defined “serious health condition.” You can also take FMLA leave to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition. On the other hand, you cannot take FMLA leave to care for a relative other than a parent or child.
What Types of Medical Conditions Qualify?
Typically, medical conditions that require an overnight hospital stay qualify for FMLA leave, whereas routine medical care does not. A medical condition that leaves you or a family member incapacitated for more than three consecutive days, and requires ongoing medical treatment, is often qualified. Pregnancy and chronic (or continuing) illnesses that require treatment at least twice a year are also covered under FMLA. Short-term or common illnesses, like the flu, are not covered by the act, unless the illness results in an overnight hospital stay.
Requirements for FMLA Leave
When you request FMLA leave from your employer, you must identify the specific period of time you need to be designated as FMLA leave. Once that request for leave is approved by your employer, you will only be protected for your absence during that specific period. In other words, simply taking time off and expecting FMLA to protect you when the leave has not been previously approved for FMLA does not protect you or guarantee anything. Instead, you will be putting yourself at risk for disciplinary action. The only exception is when an employee has no reasonable opportunity to seek prior approval, as in a medical emergency, but the leave would have been protected by FMLA.